She already felt herself weakening, looking over the menu again, scanning its fried section.
What do you want, baby? Gerry asked her.
I think I should have the salad.
What do you really want, baby?
And she thought to herself, He knows what I want.
What do you want, baby?
I want the country-fried chicken. And I want the fried okra, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, and field peas.
Then that's what we're going to get you, baby.
And, if she wanted, they'd go somewhere afterward to get a dessert, maybe a tasty cobbler -- blueberry, apple or peach -- whatever she wanted, with vanilla ice cream on top.
She vacillates between gratitude for Gerry's deference and irritation that he won't protect her from her urges. But he knows the truth. He realizes that when she wants something, she's going to get it somehow. She figures he's just trying to make her life easier.
Recently, Deke has told her what a doctor essentially told him: that he had to lose a lot of weight or his heart was going to fail him again; that either the pounds had to go or he would die sooner rather than later. She tells Gerry that she's afraid the fat is going to cover her own heart someday and kill her.
Gerry says he'll do whatever she wants him to do. And she knows that -- which is the problem.
When one of the school's bus drivers tells her about a great new big fried chicken sandwich at Burger King that's to die for, she responds excitedly that she'll be down there that week to try it. "When he said tasty, that was good to hear," she says. "And I liked hearing it was big. That means it will fill me up."
Marie isn't Deke's only concern. He also worries about the pull of all that fast food and candy on his grandchildren as well. Recently, Kenny celebrated his ninth birthday at Deke's house, on an evening when Deke and Stella asked their grandson what kind of dinner he wanted and who should make it. Deke was in fine form, regaling his grandson with reminders of his barbecue prowess, finally posing a loaded question: "Kenny, who should cook? Should Grandma do it, or are you going to let Papa fix you a fantastic dinner? What do you want?"
"Burger King," the child answered.
The moment served as confirmation for Deke that there already have been too many Burger King nights in Kenny's life, and in Marie's. It was one more reason, he thought, to change his own behavior, to show her a way to get off the path.
One Friday, Deke and Marie were eating lunch at a restaurant. He nibbled at his broiled catfish, avoiding anything fried, trying to set the right example, talking about his weight-loss goals. "See what I got here," he said to Marie. "Doing it right today."
Oblivious to the message, Marie was eating fried catfish and hush puppies.
"You gotta step up to the plate and be a man, Gerry," Deke told his son-in-law later. "You gotta get her off that stuff. It's no good for her. You gotta stop it."
"C'mon, man, you know your daughter," Gerry said. "You two are just like each other. She wants something, and that's the way it is."
Deke fell momentarily silent. He knows Gerry is right. "It gets hard, and then it gets too hard for some people," Deke says. "It's all a hard thing."
HARD BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE, Hollis Green keeps telling himself. Just two years ago, at more than 400 pounds and in the shadow of 40, Green considered the real possibility that he might be morbidly obese for the rest of his life and, therefore, he told himself, undesirable to the opposite sex, a bachelor for his remaining days.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company